Improving Tech Access to SEL

Breaking down Barriers to Tech Driven SEL

SEL Matters

As an emerging technologist and educator, I have the privilege of working with an incredible team of folks every day driving towards improving the ways kids engage with and consume technology. I also know the powerful effect that social emotional learning has on kids and school success; but you don’t have to take my word on that one. SEL matters in the classroom. It teaches and reinforces critical soft skills that drive success. A challenge for many schools and districts, however, isn’t in recognizing the need for SEL but integrating it into their digital curriculums. Technology, itself, is the challenge.


Tech Choice = Integration & Access Challenge

Tech is personal. When we choose the next smart device for ourselves or kids, our choices of brand, features, and even the color often reflect who we are. When that technology intersects with education, suddenly those differentiators we cherish become barriers to learning. In this era of online, blended, and hybrid learning models, our kids are faced with a myriad of EdTech platforms, web browsers, login screens, and inevitable incompatibilities with school and district systems.


And if it feels like there’s a new EdTech platform rolling out every day, you’re right. Education technology investmentwas over $800M USD in the first half of 2020 and is only down by 17% over the same time last year, largely due to the pandemic (EdSurge). Technology choice is accelerating, and classroom tech adoption is a necessity. The problem that remains, is technology access.


What about folks whose technology choices aren’t driven by the latest models and the colors they come in, but whether the cost is low enough to afford at all? What about the folks who are in schools and districts whose EdTech decisions are driven by what can be squeezed into meager budgets? This digital divide is stark, “in districts where the poverty rates exceed 75 percent, the reported rate of (technology) access was just 31 percent.” (EdWeek)


Breaking Down Technology Barriers

Number one on EdWeek’s list of steps to improve tech equity is for school and district leadership to bring classroom tech into a single learning platform; but that is, for many school leaders, easier said than done. The good news is that there is an integration technology built right into nearly every major learning platform that brings in an ecosystem of learning tools, many of which are free or low cost. Even better is that this integration technology is, itself, completely free. In fact, you likely already have it in the learning platform your school or district is using right now.


This wonder-tech is called Learning Tools Interoperability, or just simply LTI, and is developed by IMS Global, a public consortium of schools, governments, and learning companies across the globe. Connecting your learning platform to a learning tool via LTI:

  • eliminates logins,
    You read that right. You don’t have to login to anything integrated with LTI. A student or teacher login to your existing learning platform just flows into every tool you have integrated.
  • rosters automatically,
    The learning platform automatically rosters the individual student or teacher with the external learning tool over a secure connection when they launch. It even knows the difference between students and teachers so many external tools, including ours, can contextualize the experience.
  • and is totally seamless.
    You must see this one to believe it. Typically, LTI tools look just like they’re part of the learning platform itself. Students and teachers may never know they’re connecting to an external tool, and that’s the point.



LTI is a part of Mosaic™ by ACT’s comprehensive learning strategy and powers the technical core of our Social Emotional Learning product suite. It enables the delivery of our SEL curriculum, assessment, and reporting engines, right into your learning platform. And, oh yeah, no logins for anyone; it just works and it’s totally seamless. As an example, look at our SEL curriculum, reporting, and assessment products integrated into completely different learning platforms. It all just looks like it belongs.


Don’t Talk – Speak Success

Equity in both social emotional learning and the technology needed to access it, matters. The way we get there is to stop talking about the tech. Students, teachers, and school administrators have enough to worry about. What we can do as leaders is invest in the technology that’s invisible. Tech needs to enable those important conversations between the student and the teacher; because, if we’re talking tech, we aren’t talking about student success.

Blaine Helmick, M.Ed

Blaine Helmick, M.Ed

Blaine leads the Engineering Team for the Emerging Technologies division of ACT. He's an accomplished education technology product director with expertise in creating innovative and award winning products. He combines a BA in Information Systems with an MA in Instructional Design, both from the University of Central Florida, and brings over 20 years of career experience bridging technology and education together to create new EdTech products and services.